“It is in the wilder spaces, of scrub and deadfall, where you’d rather not tread. In these places you find wonders.”
– We must balance our need for order with the natural order’s need to be wild.
“…skimming the leaves atop the understory…(birds)”
Small flocks of five to seven chickadees chatter and fuss and pursue one another across the trail ahead of me: at eye level, into a small clearing, they skim the tops of saplings and underbrush, turn abruptly in mid-air and zip back across the trail and back again. I’m reminded of the Speeder Bikes and that great chase on the Forest Moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi. Maybe a ridiculous correlation, but this can’t be helped.
Afterwards, I find that these images have become imprinted in my mind. Not images of Speeder Bikes, but images like this small flock of birds in flight. Their speed, their capacity to swoop and dip, turn on a dime and return again.
I can’t help but feel frustrated by my incapacity to provide a truly adequate description, but this line from Leopold’s “Marshland Elegy” makes me feel better: “Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”
I have this image from a place and of a place that I can return to, and though I can not expect to see the same thing, or have the image repeat itself, the place itself is not lost to me, which is a great comfort. This is one of the joys I am discovering as part of this project. This is not a place I’ve visited on vacation. This is a place within my community. I don’t have to wait until next year to return – I can return tomorrow.
Still, I wonder if I’ve somehow been conditioned, or conditioned myself, to consider my engagement with the land as something transitory? Because, when I’m there, I feel this sense of anxiety almost where I need to take it all in, or else I’m going to miss something. And then this subtle sadness and reluctance to leave. As if I’ll never return, and there’s no way that I can preserve what I’ve seen with words, or a photograph.
Where does this feeling come from, I wonder? It’s as if we mourn the loss of the wilder spaces, even as we turn away from them. Subordinate ourselves to the promise of our own manufactured dreams, though we carry this nostalgia for something simpler, more pristine. Or, is it that we understand, more deeply than we’d like to admit, that even these small spaces, which hold wonders, are disappearing. Or simply being forgotten.
As of yet, I don’t have the language for it. I hope only that I may find it along the way.